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Old 11-19-2007, 08:50 PM
wins_pot wins_pot is offline
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Default The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs online)

This seems to fit well into the Sklansky discussion. It's a short column I wrote for Bluff (in the past I've previewed those columns here).

I told Kenny that Nick Schulman is the most obvious exception to his argument. As I discuss below, there aren't that many live players who are deeply, deeply talented. Kenny is one; it is hard to bring others to mind. It is true that the best live players would torture the best online players in deep live NL. The online players are analytically superior, allowing them to play early streets better, but these advantages will be buried by their inferior play on the later streets, especially the river. No NL player puts their money in better on the river than Kenny Tran. His reads are staggering. I've heard the same thing about Ivey, but I only have fifteen hours of play with him, so I can't confirm it.

As I discuss below, most of live NL is about game selection and life management.

The Life Cycle of a Poker Player
Brandon Adams

I was talking with a friend of mine whoís one of the best no-limit players in the world. He told me that in two years, the crop of top no-limit players would be scary, much better than those at the top of the game today. I agree with him. Perhaps these players are already out there, but donít yet have the bankroll to play in the big games (an unfortunate requisite for being considered a top player). Or maybe theyíve yet to turn twenty-one.
My friendís view was that he should maximize his win while heís at the top of the game, and then move out of the way a bit when the new crop takes over. This is smart, forward-looking bankroll management. No telling how many top players in times past failed to recognize when their time was up.
Iíve seen a lot of the high stakes poker landscape over the last couple of years. My observation is that poker has really yet to see a full package of talents. Thereís no Roger Federer of poker. Usually the top players excel in one or two aspects of the game, and then are merely very good in the other aspects. You will see analytical brilliance in Brian Townsend or Phil Galfond; you will see incredible instincts in Phil Ivey or Kenny Tran; you will see unmatched poker knowledge and speed of thought in Barry Greenstein. But you will not see all of these things in the same person. Itís inevitable that people who put together these talents will rise. There is a new level of money and status in the game right now attracting potential comers, and the talent pool is increasingly international.
Let me take a giant leap and compare skill levels across two entirely different games, poker and chess. It seems to me that in poker, no one has ever reached the level of mastery reached by the top chess players. The level of skill that Gary Kasparov in his prime exhibited on a chess table has never been matched by anyone on the green felt. This is open to argument, but I believe it to be obviously true and I think there is a deep reason for it. Poker wears people down.
Forget for a moment the degeneracy that surrounds poker. The poker world is rife with addiction, drug and alcohol use, depression, and sleep deprivation, but we will ignore for a moment the effect of these things on oneís abilities over time. I believe that there is something inherent in the game of poker that makes it difficult for one to steadily increase oneís ability over time. Namely, I think that the chief attraction of the game- itís ability to kick up adrenaline and other stress chemicals- actually subtly damages the brains of poker players, making it difficult for them to study their game and improve over time. There are mounds of evidence suggesting that even relatively mild stress can damage the brainís frontal lobes and impair learning and memory.
Itís well known that brain function (especially the ability to learn new skills) declines with age, starting at about age nineteen. Iím speculating that poker accelerates this process, but we should expect strong life cycle tendencies even if this is not the case. In the academic realm, specialists in different disciplines peak at different ages, depending on the relative importance in their particular field sheer processing power (IQ) versus accumulated knowledge. In fields where processing power weighs very heavily (math, for instance), academics peak very young (around 25). In fields, such as history, where accumulated knowledge weighs heavily, the peak occurs at age fifty or later.
I think that online poker is much more processing-intensive than live poker and depends much less on accumulated knowledge (about behavioral tendencies, for example). Itís not surprising that the top online players tend to be much younger than the top live players. My guess is that the expected peak for a serious online player would be 24 or so, and the expected peak for a live player would be around 33. I would further expect the skills of the live player to fall off more slowly after the peak than the skills of the online player.
I donít think itís too hard to paint the picture of the perfect poker player. First and foremost, he (or she) has to be born with an instinct for the game. There are some people who simply have the game in their blood. Everyone develops their hand-reading and people-reading skill over time, but only people with strong innate talents are capable of developing these skills to a world-class level. Second, he must be very smart, with an excellent memory and high quantitative and analytical aptitude. Third, he must protect his talent and smarts with good life management. I agree with Patrik Antoniusí view that top players of the future will also need to be extremely fit.
The fourth and fifth attributes of the perfect poker player are not consistent with the attributes of a well-rounded person. The perfect poker player must use the years when he peaks intellectually (around age nineteen) to study the game as deeply as possible. This includes the study of the tools, such as game theory and probability theory, that one can apply in poker. The final attribute is that, in oneís twenties, one must be focused on gaining as much poker experience as possible. As long as we are exploring the antisocial: a possible sixth attribute of the perfect player is that he is unmarried.
Poker is not yet sick enough that people consciously set out on paths such as the one suggested above. By chess and tennis standards, the path outlined above would be picture of restraint. This surely is one of the reasons those worlds produce talents of the Federer-Kasparov caliber. It is only a matter of time before poker training takes on this level of intensity.
The online world has an additional complication related to the existence of hand-analyzing software. People who donít have facility with the newest and best tools will lose out to those who do. Failure to keep up technologically can lead to oneís demise.
On a practical level, a poker player should always try to keep his ego in check and rationally assess his relative skill level. Further, the concept of bankroll management should be expanded to a consideration of how oneís relative skill level is likely to evolve over time.

Brandon Adams
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:01 PM
TheUsher TheUsher is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs onlin

awesome post. always looking forward to more from you brandon.
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:01 PM
jaybizzle jaybizzle is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs onlin

Great post.
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:03 PM
Annulus Annulus is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs online)

vnh. excellent and interesting article. i always wonder what the long term damage i will attain from poker. all the ups and downs, stress, frustrations and joy one can achieve on a daily basis has to be hard on the body/brain. time will tell i have personally noticed some memory loss irl and also gray hairs that i never had before [img]/images/graemlins/laugh.gif[/img]
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:04 PM
LearnedfromTV LearnedfromTV is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs online)

Great read, enjoy the analogies to tennis and chess. An analogy to golf might be interesting as well; that seems to be a game where accumulated experience has greater value and peak age is higher than tennis or math/logic intensive intellectual pursuits, but where Tiger Woods-like training while young is necessary to become, well, Tiger Woods.

The brain function stuff is fascinating.

I'd like to hear more opinions from top level players on the skill set that the Federer/Kasparov/Woods would need to have.
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:05 PM
Christophers Christophers is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs online)

Nice post, but I think the lack of variance in chess and tennis makes the Kasparov/Federer analogies fairly meaningless. I think that's the real reason why there has never, and probably will never be a well-defined "best player" in poker.
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:08 PM
JoeKing JoeKing is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs onlin

wow
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:10 PM
STA654 STA654 is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs online)

So your saying Brian Townsend has peaked?
awesome post btw.
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:10 PM
plzbenice plzbenice is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs onlin

awesome post.
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Old 11-19-2007, 09:16 PM
A_C_Slater A_C_Slater is offline
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Default Re: The Life Cycle of a Poker Player (and my thoughts on live vs online)

At 27 this post makes me feel doomed. At least there's always shortstacking/ratholing. Unexploitable!
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